The Washington Capitals can’t seem to change the script to their season so far. The narrative through the first five games has been costly mistakes and the inability to score goals. That did not change in their 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It’s the same old story with finding ways to lose hockey games and that in the National Hockey League. Like you have to figure it out,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said after Tuesday’s loss. “You can do all the good things you want structurally. There’s a lot of good things that are going on, no question we did. But at the end of the day, if we want to be a good team in this league, you got to find ways to win as opposed to finding ways to lose.”
However, the Capitals (1-3-1) played a strong game offensively despite only getting on the scoreboard once. Maple Leafs goaltender Joseph Woll was the difference, stopping 36 of 37 Washington shots.
Here are three things that stood out.
Bad Puck Luck
The Caps can’t buy a goal right now. They played their best first period of the season and they couldn’t get a puck past the Maple Leafs netminder.
Washington has yet to play with a lead this season. That trend was broken when Nicklas Backstrom got the Caps on the board, for only five minutes or so.
The Maple Leafs challenged the play for goaltender interference.
Alex Ovechkin bullied his way into the crease and went into the goal himself. Backstrom corralled a loose puck and potted it home, but the referees deemed that Ovechkin made enough contact with Woll to prevent him from doing his job.
— Capitals Replays (@capsreplays) October 24, 2023
So the Caps failing to score the first goal trend continued, along with not capitalizing on the man-advantage.
“I think we played the right way, but you know that period of time when we have to fight through it and don’t be panicking, don’t be frustrated,” Ovechkin said. “It’s just a part of the process. I think we just have to play hard and it goes in.”
The Capitals heavily outshot the Leafs in all three periods, but Woll stood up to the task whenever the Caps had a quality scoring chance. Washington had nine high-danger scoring chances, four of which came in the first period. Evgeny Kuznetsov hit the post and Matthew Phillips had a chance at the doorstep.
The bounces are just not going the Capitals’ way and the frustration continues to build.
Alex Ovechkin Hungry
Ovechkin was buzzing all night long. The Capitals captain finished the game with 14 shots on goal, seven of which came in the first period alone, which was one shot short of his career high when he had 15 back on Nov. 10, 2015.
#ALLCAPS Alex Ovechkin is up to 13 shots on goal through 40mins. His career high is 15 shots on goal (2x, most recently Nov.10, 2015 in 1-0 loss in Detroit)
— Ben Raby (@BenRaby31) October 24, 2023
Early in the second period, Ovechkin was hooked on a breakaway by Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Giordano and was given a penalty shot. Unfortunately, he did not convert and was still searching for his first goal of the year.
“He looked different tonight. Even another gear like he was attacking all night,” Carbery said. “So you could tell that early, especially that first power play like it was coming to the cage today and that was part of our game plan, to attack them [and] try to put them on their heels. So he set the tone there. We just couldn’t find a way to get one earlier, get that game tied to change it and then they make a few plays and we’re chasing it.”
The Capitals captain had seven shots on goal from his office according to NaturalStatTrick.
On his 13th shot of the game, John Carlson fed a perfect pass to a wide-open Ovechkin to the left side of Woll for an easy layup.
This power-play marker was Ovechkin’s 300th of his soon-to-be hall of fame career. No player in NHL history had reached that milestone. The 38-year-old now sits at 823 career goals.
“I mean it’s insane. It’s beyond kind of comprehension at times what he does and pretty cool to be able to witness all the milestones he has hitten [and] he’s going to hit so it’s pretty, pretty amazing,” Tom Wilson said. “That being said, we gotta get some wins here.”
Too Soft In Front Of The Net, Not Enough Net Front Presence
The Capitals once again struggled on the defensive side of the puck. They had a tough time defending the front of the net and once again were caught out of position.
John Tavares’s goal, which put the Leafs up 2-0, was a tip in front of the cage and Martin Fehervary did not do a good job of taking away Tavares’s stick and clearing him away from the blue paint.
On William Nylander’s breakaway tally, he snuck behind Nick Jensen and he didn’t pick up the streaking Swede in time. On Auston Matthews’ power-play strike, Kuznetsov was out of position and failed to cover Matthews, and he wired a puck past Darcy Kuemper.
“We have to tighten up in those areas. That’s what I’ve been talking about the last couple of weeks is we have to be extremely tight on those one-on-ones. We have to be extremely tight on that box out on John Tavares,” Carbery said. “Right now we need to win a game 1-0. So that box out and getting under his stick and not losing that one-on-one. Those will be coming when you look back at these games. They’re the difference in the game.”
On the flip side, the Capitals had a difficult time crashing the net and getting interior presence. Right now, it seems like the only way Washington is going to score is on second and third chance opportunities.
“I think just naturally our group the way it’s built, it’s not an overly physical strong net-front presence. Win pucks inside, tips like you see Tavares’s goal today. I don’t feel like that’s a real strength of our group,” Carbery said. “But it needs to become a strength especially when you’re struggling to score goals. You got to find ways to get to the interior, you got to find ways to generate a tip, you got to find ways to get a rebound.”
Notable Numbers and Observations
- It was not the greatest night for Darcy Kuemper, but I think he is getting more heat than he deserves. He could have come up with more saves, but let’s not forget that he faced a plethora of high-danger chances in Montreal. That had to have taken a toll on him.
- It was good to see Nicklas Backstrom make some key plays and look more confident. He sent in Ovechkin on a breakaway that led to the penalty shot.
- Nick Jensen didn’t have the greatest game.
- The Maple Leafs were 53.5% in the faceoff circle and the Caps were 46.5%
- The Caps had 13 hits compared to Toronto’s 10.
- Washington outshot Toronto in all three periods. 17-5 in the 1st, 12-9 in the 2nd and 8-3 in the third.
The Capitals will travel to Newark to take on the New Jersey Devils for the second half of a back-to-back.
By Jacob Cheris